What is the WFD?

What is the Water Framework Directive (WFD)?

The WFD is a European Directive which introduces a planning process to manage, protect and improve the water environment. It applies to all rivers (including drains and ditches), lakes, estuaries, coastal waters and groundwater.

A detailed description of the environmental legislation that flood and coastal risk managers need to comply with, is provided here.

What is a water body?

All surface waters (including rivers, lakes, estuaries and stretches of coastal water) and groundwaters have been divided up into discrete units called water bodies. Water bodies are the basic unit that are used to assess the quality of the water environment and to set targets for environmental improvements.

In England and Wales the boundaries of each water body are marked on the maps found in 'What’s in your backyard?.' For the rest of Europe, please refer to relevant River Basin Management Plans.

What is Good Ecological Status?

Good Ecological Status (GES) is the WFD default objective for all water bodies and is defined as a slight variation from undisturbed conditions. The elements that make up Ecological Status include:

  • biological elements (including fish, macro-invertebrates, macrophytes and diatoms); and
  • supporting elements (made up of hydromorphology, ammonia, pH, phosphates, dissolved oxygen and 18 pollutants including some heavy metals and pesticides).

Each of these elements contributes to the overall ecological status. A lowest common denominator rule is applied to the elements, so the lowest scoring element denotes the overall status of the water body. For example, if a biological quality element was at moderate and other quality elements were at good, it would be assumed that the water body as a whole is at moderate status.

What is Good Ecological Potential?

Most water bodies have been designated as an Artificial or Heavily Modified Water Body (A/HMWB) for flood protection. They need to achieve Good Ecological Potential (GEP) by 2015 or 2027. Water bodies can be designated for uses other than FCERM, such as navigation, recreation or water storage.

In FCERM, your work mainly falls in A/HMWBs. These are water bodies which have been altered through human activity (e.g. FCERM, urbanisation and land drainage). GEP is the best ecology that can be achieved in a water body whilst still enabling FCERM works to be undertaken to protect people and property from flooding.

What are River Basin Management Plans?

A series of River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs) have been developed, they describe how the WFD will be achieved in your region. They also tell you, at a local level, which environmental improvements you need to implement to achieve the objectives of the WFD. Your RBMP sets out:

  • Ecological objectives for each water body; and
  • Deadlines by when ecological objectives need to be met.

In England and Wales RBMPs can be found on the Environment Agency’s website. RBMPs follow six-yearly River Basin Planning Cycles, which end in 2015, 2021 and 2027.

Annex B of each RBMP is useful, it includes one-page summaries for each water body, and in the case of Artificial and Heavily Modified Water Bodies, the environmental improvements that are required to achieve Good Ecological Potential.

Annex C explains the environmental improvements that each RBMP says should be carried out to improve water bodies. Not all mitigation measures are in this list as they are not always deliverable (due to factors such as technical feasibility or cost). It is not always possible to get to GEP so not all measures are imported from Annex B to Annex C. At this stage another tier of analysis is necessary.

Annex D describes the environmental improvements that the Environment Agency and partners need to undertake to achieve WFD objectives for Protected Areas (sites of international conservation importance that are designated under the European Habitats Directive and Birds Directive).

Annex B environmental improvement measures are being revised through a series of investigations. You should contact your Environment Agency FCERM contact for an up-to-date list of the environment improvements that need to be put in place to help achieve GEP.

RBMPs - Rest of Europe

To find European RBMPs please go to: